Ray Wans saw the first Japanese bomber from a window of the USS Curtiss, anchored in Pearl Harbor.
He was peeling an apple and heard a plane dive. He saw the bombs strike the airstrip.
“Half of my division was killed or wounded in Pearl Harbor,” said Wans, who was 17 years old on Dec. 7, 1941.
He survived the attack without injury.
Wans is one of the dwindling number of survivors and World War II veterans alive in the U.S. Now 89, the Navy veteran is scheduled to give a speech during a special Memorial Day service at Grace Lutheran Church, 11 a.m. Sunday, 8401 Holly Drive in Everett. A potluck is planned after the service. Everyone is invited.
Hearing a witness tell the story of World War II is important because it makes the message more powerful, said George Howard, the church council president.
“There aren’t many Pearl Harbor survivors and WWII veterans left. We need to listen to them while they are still here,” Howard said.
Wans walking away without an injury is even more remarkable because a bomber shot from the air crashed into the Curtiss, a seaplane tender, several decks above him. He helped carry the burned bodies of his fellow sailors to the hangar deck.
He carried one sailor from Texas whose face was completely burned. The man pleaded with Wans to tell his family what had happened.
“I never saw him again,” Wans said. “We sent him to the clinic and he never came back.”
During the war, Wans served on different ships, including the USS Hornet CV-12 in which he fought in 10 battles.
He also served on the aircraft carrier USS Hancock that raided Japan in the last part of the war. Japanese pilots searched for the ship at night, but never found them, he said.
He was about 200 miles from Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945.
“I saw one of the first bombs and saw one of the last bombs of the war,” Wans said.
He retired in October 1945 as coxswain.
Wans lives with his wife Nancy in Everett. Their two daughters live in Marysville and their son lives in California with his family. The couple have two adult grandchildren.
Wans has been speaking about the war for years, but is reducing the number of his talks because of his health. Still he says telling his story is important. He wants people to remember.
“I want to show the sacrifice of these boys so their sacrifice wasn’t in vain,” Wans said.
Wans also wants to encourage a new generation of enlisted men and women to learn from history to better protect their families.
“It’s up to these young people to defend our country,” he said.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; firstname.lastname@example.org.